Report on “Promoting workplace wellbeing – Tips for Self-employed, Freelance and Lone Workers”, the talk given by David Craigie, 28 May 2012.
The Business Matters Trust is very grateful to Deloitte for hosting the talk and providing a buffet lunch.
Iain Archibald welcomed guests to the sixth in a series of lunchtime talks under the umbrella title “Promoting workplace wellbeing”. He introduced David Craigie, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with the Craigie Partnership here in Edinburgh, now well known to many of us in the business matters network.
This was a slightly unusual talk for us, focusing as it did on men and women who are not in large corporate organisations but who are either self-employed, freelancing or working on their own. business matters has long wished to serve such people. The guests present represented perhaps the broadest audience we have ever had, ranging from e.g. self-employed writers to insurance company executives who supervise remote workers. The lunchtime was also unusual in its being very interactive, with a lot of audience participation. There was much sharing of personal experience. That is why we decided not to record the session. However, we have pleasure in providing the following summary of the topics touched on. It will hopefully serve as a useful checklist of ideas. Content in square brackets represents contributions from friends and contacts since the lunchtime on 28th May.
The PowerPoint slides that David used in his talk are available using the icon at the foot of the page.
In his introduction David outlined what services his business offers but also took time to give an overview of his own career history, because it illustrates aspects of what it means to be a lone worker or self-employed. “Let’s be into truth-telling,” he said. After graduating, David made a huge number of job applications, but this effort only led to a spell of voluntary work. Then he managed to spend some three years working part-time and then full-time in the NHS. His desire to obtain chartership in his profession led him to reassess his options and, ultimately, to becoming self-employed. He summed up the path to his present position by saying: if someone had told him years ago what was involved in becoming self-employed, he would probably not have embarked on the journey but, having been down the path and progressed to where he is now, he is extremely glad that he did make the decision to become self-employed – there are great rewards from being self-employed.
David’s programme for the lunchtime was:
- Some statistics
- Why are we working alone?
- The benefits
- The challenges
- Possible solutions
- Networking opportunity
David asked those present to briefly outline who they were and what they did. The 28 attendees included project managers keen to find out how to maximize contribution from team members working remotely, self-employed accountants, people in the middle of career change trying to plan the future direction they should take, people wishing to start their own business, parish ministers, coaches and people interested in becoming coaches and also a comedy scriptwriter and a freelance interpreter. In response to being asked what their “burning questions” for the day were, the replies included:
- How to stay motivated and avoid madness
- How to deal with financial stress
- How to cope with being unsupervised
- How to separate private and work life when working from home
- How to keep all the plates spinning
- What safety nets (health insurance etc.) are needed
- How to instil structure into the day when working alone
- How to stop going back to bed when my wife leaves the house!
The statistics that David presented showed that there are a large number of Small- and Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs) in the UK and that they account for a huge proportion of all businesses and employment in Scotland.
Why are we working alone? Our guests offered the following reasons:
- We can break free of the rat race
- There is much more flexibility
- The company sometimes forces this on us for geographical or economic reasons
- Perhaps we are at the introvert end of the spectrum and prefer our own company
- There can be a clearer correlation between work and income
David shared some further reasons including:
- Maybe we have no choice but to do so
- Family and health reasons
- Representing a remote company
- Organisations and individuals wishing to keep costs down
- Greater efficiency, e.g. getting away from some of the draining aspects of working in an office
The benefits of working independently. The range of responses included:
- Job satisfaction: you can do a better job / meet higher standards than you might otherwise
- Less commuting
- The ability to choose your own clients
- The variety within your client base
- Being able to fit your work around your life rather than vice versa – for example in the area of childcare
- The accountability for your own career path which self-employment offers
- Being able to access different time zones
- The satisfaction of personally clinching a deal
David’s further suggestions included:
- It’s easier to take on multiple roles – e.g. carer as well as worker
- No risk of having a boss who micro-manages you
The challenges of working alone. Our audience suggested these challenges:
- Keeping a full order book
- Not knowing where your work starts and ends / what is work and what is personal life
- Being disciplined in time management
- Feeling isolated from the social aspects of the workplace; loneliness
- Some partner pressure – either from work partner or life partner
David added to that list:
- The difficulty accessing peer support
- Losing touch with developments in your profession / business
- Your working environment, or more accurately the absence of a classical one
- Being all too easily misunderstood by friends and family – the assumption is often made that because you are working at home you are available for coffee, just to chat, to babysit, to do that small DIY job…
- A potential loss of a clear sense of identity and business image
- The multiple roles required in one person. If we are self-employed then we have to be the Managing Director, the Finance Director, the Marketing Director and the Operations Director of our business – all rolled in to one. We therefore need to have meetings ‘with all four parts of ourselves participating’- and perhaps not even liking what each part has to say about the other!
- The absence of corporate-style benefits: annual leave; sick pay; parental leave
Creative solutions to these challenges. David first of all suggested:
- Define the problem
- Propose some solutions
- Weigh up pros and cons of each solution
- Decide, plan and implement
He opened the floor for creative solutions to the challenges we had thought of. Topics and ideas raised included:
- Set up your own network of self-employed / lone working friends, collaborators and, occasionally even, competitors
- Find a similarly placed friend and become mutually accountable, e.g. about use of time, hitting targets you’ve each set yourselves, etc.
- Set yourself small achievable goals which you can then tick off. This boosts morale and allows you to gradually increase the challenge of the goals and respond positively. For example, David mentioned a new CRM (Customer Resource Management) system he was implementing; the thought of having to add hundreds of customer entries was hugely daunting but the tactic of adding one on day one, two on day two, three on day three, etc. was achievable and worked well for him.
- Create a website and good-quality business cards. This helps you to commit more fully to what it is you are about, to ‘cement’ your business image and to generally increase your commitment to the business.
- Build time in for annual leave. Plan your time well, perhaps splitting your day into chunks, e.g. only two of the three parts should be devoted to your work, the third must be protected.
- Assume perhaps 200 earning days in a year – based on a 5 day week and allowing 4 to 5 weeks for holiday, plus 4 to 5 weeks when billable work may not be available, and perhaps 2 weeks for sickness. This allows you to calculate a realistic daily / weekly charging rate and removes the temptation to under-price yourself and thus create a vicious circle of chasing ever more work to balance the financial books. A higher daily rate, far from putting clients off, may elicit more respect, interest and orders.
- The environment you work in can affect you – how you dress when in work mode (working clothes, not your Saturday ones, and no slippers!); even the wallpaper on your computer screen can be used to remind you whether you are working or that you are in personal or family time.
- Explain to your children that when you are in working clothes you are generally unavailable unless you are away from your desk and it is lunchtime (or unless it is an emergency of course).
- [Obtain two attractive pebbles or stones of different colours. Let one represent “at work” and the other “not at work”. Place on your desk whichever one applies, replacing it with the other when the clock indicates. IA ]
- [If working from home, start off by leaving your house and taking a short walk, then entering your home as if it is now a workplace. Maybe doing the same at the end of the day. Going to your nearest post-box can help! IA ]
- [Put a lock on your office door and don’t enter after work or at the weekend. Anon ]
- [For consultancy type work it can be helpful to budget on 120 days work per year… 3 days per week based on David’s 200 working days per year. The reason for this is that a day per week is useful for business development, and another day per week for admin. CH ]
- [You can deliver work for clients 5 days per week, but that is more likely to result in feast and famine. CH ]
- [For the beginning and end of the day, I totally agree about getting out. Helping with the social aspect, rather than walking to the post box, go to the post office. Alternatively buy a paper. CH ]
- [I would urge that self-employed people talk about having their own business, rather than work for themselves – a subtle but helpful change in emphasis. CH ]
- [Use your networking opportunities to find lawyer / accountant / stationer / other suppliers who really understand self-employed businesses. CH ]
- [There are a variety of co-working places springing up, where you can rent a desk by the hour – this makes trips for meetings much more efficient, if you have time between meetings. It also can have a side benefit of extra networking. CH ]
- [Keep on top of finances, however much you hate the job. It keeps accountant costs down, and makes the tax return much easier! CH ]
- [Remember there’s an off switch on a smart phone! CH ]
- [Find someone you can trust with your work – to handle calls / enquiries – so you can take a real holiday, rather than just changing working location when you go away. I spoiled a very special holiday by taking a laptop a few years ago – never again! CH ]
David added these creative solutions:
- Make the most of free events/resources, also networking opportunities and social media.
- Make the most of websites that are there to help you
His penultimate slide listed these websites:
- http://www.dhpscotland.co.uk/ (self employment support)
- http://www.bgateway.com/ (all things business)
- http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/ (all things tax)
- http://www.direct.gov.uk/ (supports, benefits etc.)
- http://www.edinburghchamber.co.uk/ (Chamber of Commerce)
- http://www.fsb.org.uk/ (Federation of Small Businesses)
- http://www.mycos.co.uk/ (cost reduction services)
- http://www.findnetworkingevents.com/ (what it says on the tin)
The relevance and success of the lunchtime could be seen by the fact that the discussion and networking which followed the talk went on long after the scheduled finishing time and there has since been email traffic between the guests who attended.
Consultant to business matters